Dead Man Talking
I am a dead man — dead inside, anyway. The suicide of my second son 11 days ago has sucked all the oxygen from life; I’m a dead planet orbiting a dark star. Grief is my gravity.
All around me there are signs of life, but I float through these interactions like morning mist on a lake, a palpable presence but barely there.
Separated by 3,000 miles, I have a wife I can barely talk to as I’m afraid grief multiplied will ignite and blow me into a land beyond return… and the grief only deepens because of it.
I have a God whose grace is promised but I can’t feel delivered. We stand at detente; negotiations to be scheduled at a later date.
I have lived my life in the public eye, yet jealously guarded my own personal orbit, rarely allowing outsiders into that small, tight circle.
I am stingy and curmudgeonly with my time and person, which all makes for a complex human calculus that often ends in the phrase: “I have few friends.”
I am a liar.
Through the white hot pain of my son’s death I’ve experienced such an overwhelming outpouring of love, support and sympathy — from quarters familiar and unknown — that I can never again pretend to be alone in a crowd.
Sixteen thousand have read these Medium posts alone and from them I’ve received hundreds of expressions of condolences, sympathy and prayers.
Subsequent postings on Facebook loosed a firehose of similar heartfelt expressions, from a distant college roommate to folks whom I thought were on the margin of my life to a friendship of 30 years burst asunder years ago now made whole. And there’s nothing they can do except be present. Be present.
What I have written in the fledgling hours and days of this tragedy is not easy to read. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be painful and done with purpose as I try and extract my grief like snake venom and spew it onto the page. And yet — there they all are, standing strong and present.
That, that is grace defined and I’m blessed in my bereavement. I know each of them searches for ways in which to help or struggles for “the right words to say.” For these friends and for the fellow dead among us, I offer up the following playbook — fractured and raw as it may be.
1—Eat Your Grief
There’s nothing going to stop the grief. There is no escape. No drug strong enough, no experience distracting enough to pull you out of grief’s gravity. You have to eat your grief; feast on it. Embrace it. Own it and not be ashamed for having done so.
2—Write the Sh*t Out of It
I don’t care if you think you can’t put two sentences together, those around you are desperate to hear from you, to hear how you’re doing and what’s going on with you. Find that outlet wherever you can — here on Medium, on Facebook. Hell, even Twitter will do in a pinch. Call it recovery 140 characters at a time.
3—Let Them In
You have more friends than you think. Yes, you do. When all that support comes flowing your way, throw open your soul and breathe them in. You won’t suffocate, you will be buoyed. People will want to share with you their own stories and you won’t want to listen — rather, you’ll feel like you can’t listen — but do. There are wonderfully redeeming stories out there. They will help you or at least show you what’s ahead when you finally decide a future is possible.
The unintended consequence of this is that it also helps them. Another factor of grace in action. Out of your immediate tragedy comes some small bit of positivity and trust me, it adds up. Let them in; let them talk. And.Just.Hold.On.
4 — Be Present
This is for all those talking to the dead. Just be there. After your initial “I’m so sorry,” stick around and let them know you’re there and available. Read what he or she writes, no matter how painful. Let them know you’re reading and taking every step with them. Don’t be offended if they don’t respond — but know your presence is a precious commodity.
5 — “The Right Words”
There are no “right words” because they are ALL the right words, with the exception of platitudes (“It’ll be alright,” “Things will get better,” “Just give it time,” etc.) everything else is fair game.
The dead want to hear from you — no matter how small the offering. “There are no words,” sure, but they are all the “right words” so don’t stay away. Us dead guys… we need you.